Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ampney Crucis Investigates... The Entropy Tango

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of the latest Ampney Crucis Investigates story (Rebellion, 2012-13).

In 2008, Ian Edginton and Simon Davis launched a very promising-sounding series in the pages of 2000 AD. Ampney Crucis Investigates is easiest described as "Lord Peter Wimsey versus Cthulu." It's about a between-the-wars toff whose grievous wounds on the Western Front left him able to see hideous interdimensional beasts, and now he spends his time assisting police with their inquiries when their investigations lead them down occult, SF, and paranormal avenues.

It has never quite worked as well as it should, and never lived up to its promise. It's come achingly close on a couple of occasions, but Lord Crucis was poorly served by a couple of adventures that forced him, awkwardly, into the role of an action hero. Now, the lead in a detective thriller should certainly be the hero - Raymond Chandler may have disapproved strongly of the genre that spawned and inspired Lord Crucis, but he was quite correct that our protagonist should be in charge of his destiny - but there's a limit to this hero's powers and abilities. The stories thus far have not quite served those limitations well, whether by the artificial limits of a story that was much shorter than it should have been, or going the 2000 AD way of two-fisted adrenaline melodrama for a premise that does not warrant it.

But with the fifth story, "The Entropy Tango," Edginton and Davis have got it closer to perfect than ever before. It began in December's extra-length "Prog 2013" and continued for the next eleven issues and was far and away the best thing in the comic. This was a very good and very invigorating blend of action and baffling mystery, the stakes very high and the situation truly outre. Within the first few weeks, we had dead pleisosaurs in a field, woolly mammoths in a barn, Martian ambassadors targeted for assassination by disciples of Charles Babbage, and Alan Turing working on a top secret computer project for the British government.

This is the sort of wild kitchen sink approach to storytelling that has typified Pat Mills' work in recent years, but it works much better the way that Edginton employs it here. While Mills throws a hundred crazy concepts at the wall at once and leaves readers thunderstruck by all the madness, Edginton slowly builds to each bizarre reveal, using each as a part of a huge and complex puzzle for Lord Crucis and his manservant Cromwell to untangle. While I doubt anybody ever expected a revelation like a mammoth working as a beast of burden on a rural farm to ever come across as a natural part of storytelling, it's actually done so simply and effectively that "natural" is the only way to describe it. It's an exceptionally well-constructed puzzle, only let down, sadly, by the rushed ending.

2000 AD typically schedules "launch progs" into their lineup, where each issue features the start of all-new stories or serials. I'm afraid that "The Entropy Tango" fell afoul of the most recent one, and what could have continued unfolding naturally and in an exciting way over a few more chapters was quickly - far too quickly - tidied up. I'm not only saying that just because I was enjoying the bejezus out of this story as it continued, but I really feel that this series, more than any other in 2000 AD's lineup, would really benefit from long runs of seventeen or more weeks. There is a flow to the discovery that should not be dictated by the artificial structure of week-to-week scheduling. If that means that a launch prog has four "episode one"s and one "episode fourteen," so be it. The story itself is certain to be served better.

With the caveat that the rushed ending won't please anybody, getting there was a huge pleasure. I am looking forward to Lord Crucis's next adventure and hope that the Mighty One won't make us wait too long. This is his best and most satisfying case so far, and comes strongly recommended.

No comments: